New York Times

March 4, 2003

Men and Women Aren't Alike. Really.

By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
New York Times

Men are selfish pigs. And there aren't enough of them to go around.

At least that's what Andrew Hacker suggests in his depressing new book "Mismatch," a glib, didactic book that uses sometimes dubious methodology to ratify women's worst fears about dating and marriage and the opposite sex.

In much the same way that he asserted in his controversial 1992 book "Two Nations" that America continued to suffer from a bitter and deeply entrenched white-black racial divide, so Mr. Hacker argues in these pages that there is a widening chasm between men and women.

As evidence of this gender gap, Mr. Hacker notes that half of all marriages end in divorce, fewer and fewer adults are becoming parents, and close to 40 percent of children aren't living with their fathers. More and more fathers are rejecting parental obligations, he argues, even as more and more women are opting for motherhood on their own. He writes that polls indicate a growing divergence in the political and social views held by men and women, and he identifies a growing cultural divide between the sexes, galvanized by the fact that fewer men than women are graduating from college.

"There is a greater divide between the sexes than at any time in living memory," he writes. "The result will be a greater separation of women and men, with tensions and recriminations afflicting beings once thought to be naturally companionable."

Why has this come about? Mainly, Mr. Hacker suggests, it's because women are less willing "to subsume themselves or limit their ambitions to make life more congenial for men," as many did in the past: "Few are willing to sustain the former complementarity that required them to play a subordinate role. More broadly, they expect full equality, not just legally and in the economic arena, but in the holistic sense of being perceived as an integral human being. As hardly needs recounting, women are now entering spheres that were once dominated by men. And as more of them are revealing their talents, they are competing against men, a circumstance that was never contemplated in the past."

To buttress his conclusions Mr. Hacker a professor of political science at Queens College in New York flings around a huge number of statistics, many of them taken from government reports like the census. The problem is he tends to mix up solid facts and figures with more qualified findings, focuses almost exclusively on those statistics that back up his thesis, presents the familiar or obvious with an air of revelatory zeal and glosses everything with speculative hyperbole a technique he lamely defends by arguing that "hyperbole can serve a purpose: to sharpen our understanding of the murky world in which we live."

Despite such protestations, his methodology has the effect of undermining his more legitimate conclusions. The book mixes findings from broad, well-controlled surveys with findings from small, arbitrary studies; for instance one that is cited as showing that women are more inclined to value emotional communication than their husbands featured voice-activated tape recorders placed in the living rooms of a mere dozen married couples.

To make matters worse, "Mismatch" is liberally seasoned with knee-jerk editorializing on Mr. Hacker's part. He makes gross generalizations about men and women ("in most marriages, he loves her less than she does him"); asks stupid questions ("to what extent," he wonders, is brutality "endemic to men"?); and makes silly assumptions ("let's imagine that all the women who favor greater curbs on guns and less reliance on missiles would prefer to find a man who shares their views").

There are questionable assertions in this book "few straight men haven't married at least once by the time they reach their 40's" and even more dubious theories: at one point the author suggests that "a growing unwillingness by white men to become or remain resident fathers to the children they have sired" might be connected with the mainstream popularity of rap and hip-hop music and movies like "Shaft" that "glamorized black potency" and a laissez-faire attitude toward family life.

In the course of this book Mr. Hacker makes more unsavory generalizations about men than "The First Wives Club." He accuses the majority of his sex of being selfish, self-absorbed, uncommunicative and unwilling to make marital adjustments and at one point goes so far as to wonder whether evolution has "implanted a propensity for rape that lingers in modern man?"

His conclusion: "It is not an exaggeration to suggest that today's women actually want more from life than men do. Unfortunately, when it comes to what women want from marriage, not enough husbands are willing or able to provide the responses that wives believe are possible."

Though women initiate 64.9 percent of divorces, he reports, it is men who tend to prosper afterward. He writes that the living standards of divorced fathers typically rise by 10 percent after the split (while those of mothers and their children fall by 27 percent), says the checks divorced women receive average $3,844 a year and points out that "more former husbands than wives remarry."

Which brings us to the Great Male Shortage a scarcity that has already been dissected and debated for years, from the infamous 1986 Newsweek article that asserted that a 40-year-old woman had better odds of being killed by a terrorist than getting married, to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's recent book "Why There Are No Good Men Left."

Mr. Hacker's approach to this phenomenon is to emphasize the accelerating ambition and success of women, their overtaking of men in college, where for every 100 women graduates there are only 75 men; and in college sports, where thanks to Title IX, "there are now actually more women's teams" than men's and men's uneasiness at this development.

Echoing the title of his earlier book on race, Mr. Hacker concludes that men and women can be viewed as "two nations," that there is "an emerging mismatch between the sexes" and "not enough men who satisfy the expectations that modern women have for dates and mates."

Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw could have told you the same thing without brandishing a single statistic or citing a single survey.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company.